Alex Morgan is a World Cup champion soccer player and Olympic gold medalist. Sue Bird has four WNBA championship titles and four Olympic gold medals. Simone Manuel took home four medals from the 2016 Olympics and became the first Black woman to win an individual event in Olympic swimming. Chloe Kim became the youngest snowboard halfpipe gold medalist — at age 17 — in the 2018 Olympics.
Last week, these four Olympians launched a new media and commerce company designed to elevate women’s voices around sports. They saw a need for their company, TOGETHXR, after repeatedly seeing women athletes left out of media stories. Even though 40% of all participants in sports are female, only 4% of media sport coverage is about female athletes.
“The piece of the pie we have is so small,” Bird told SELF.com. “When there’s such a small piece ... you almost have to fight with one another to get it. I’m glad that we’re now at a point where (women athletes) all kind of look at each other like, ‘Wait, what? That’s not the problem here. The problem is we need a bigger piece.’”
The founders of TOGETHXR are not the only ones who see a problem with equity and are finding ways to solve it. Monday, March 8, is International Women’s Day and one of this year’s themes is #ChooseToChallenge — challenge inequities, challenge bias, challenge assumptions, challenge stereotypes, challenge the status quo, challenge the gender pay gap and challenge sexism, both hostile and benevolent.
Benevolent sexism is the kind that might seem nice, but it condescends and confines them to certain roles — or, for example, praises their cooking while ignoring the fact that they’re literally a rocket scientist (true story).
Wilma Heide, born 100 years ago last week, noted that “the pedestal is immobilizing and subtly insulting whether or not some women yet realize it.” She also said, “The hand that rocks the cradle should also rock the boat,” which might just become my new personal mantra.
So, how do we #ChooseToChallenge? There are likely as many ways to approach this as there are people in the world, but here are three ideas.
First, challenge your own silence. Begin using your voice. Speak out against inequities that you see or experience, or that people around you are experiencing. Speak up for issues and people you care about. Remember Elsa in the Disney movie “Frozen 2”? As her muse, her mom sings to her “Step into your power. ... You are the one you’ve been waiting for.”
Is it easy? Usually not. Will it get easier? Yes. Do we need your voices? Absolutely. Former Utah House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart said in one of her last interviews before her death: “Using your real voice might make you uncomfortable. It might make people around you feel uncomfortable, but until we make it normal for women to be heard, until we are heard for our ideas and not viewed as tokens, that’s the price we’ll pay. I, for one, have been willing to pay that price.
Second, challenge your doubts. Imposter syndrome certainly feels real and can have very real consequences. In the late 1970s, two American psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, described this syndrome that occurs among high achievers who are “unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than ability.” For example, Maya Angelou once said: “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’”
If you are telling yourself that you “should not” speak up or that you are somehow not qualified, challenge those (faulty) assumptions. Do you have life experience? You are qualified. Do you have an opinion or a perspective? Then please speak up! Even if it’s scary.
That brings me to my third challenge. Challenge the idea that courage means the absence of fear. It’s not true. One of the most common roadblocks I hear that keeps people — and especially women — from speaking up is fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of pushback. Fear of offending someone. Fear that no one will listen. Fear that no one will take you seriously. Fear of being vulnerable.
And you know what? You’re right. It is scary to speak up, especially on things that matter deeply. Do it anyway. Brené Brown notes that “you can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.” Be courageous. Be vulnerable. It’s ok to do things scared. Eleanor Roosevelt counseled us to “do one thing every day that scares you.”
When we do the work to elevate women and their voices, to work toward equity, inclusion and respect, we all benefit. Life is not a zero-sum game and while no one can work on every issue in front of us, we can all do something to better the lives of women and girls in our homes, our communities, our nation and our world. How will you #ChooseToChallenge?
Holly Richardson is the editor of Utah Policy, a wife, a mother and a longtime advocate for women.